The Editor’s Desk

Political conventions have been an obsession of mine since my parents made the spectacularly unwise decision to dispatch me to summer camp in the midst of one. They atoned by sending me the convention issue of NEWSWEEK, which I devoured on the banks of Lake Ocoee in eastern Tennessee. (I was a terrible camper, and not just because of my gloom that political history was being made while I was being taught to canoe, a skill I have never since had occasion to use, even if I had mastered it, which I did not.) For sentimental as well as substantive reasons, then, I have always loved our preconvention coverage.This issue is especially fun. Nigel Parry's cover and Charles Ommanney's behind-the-scenes images of the Obamas and Bidens in their first moments together as a ticket are historic; I am grateful to Simon Barnett (who was in Springfield for the occasion), Susanne Miklas and Michelle Molloy, who did terrific work on deadline to bring them to you. Most of the time I try to use this...

How History Informs Our World

History has always been a tactile thing to me, and I like to think that I come by it honestly. I grew up on Missionary Ridge, a Civil War battlefield where you could still find Minié balls in the ground and in trees more than a century after Union troops broke the Confederate line in the autumn of 1863. As a boy, I played World War II, wearing my grandfather's old gunnery-officer Navy helmet from the Pacific. Years later, a secretary to Winston Churchill gave me one of the signed pictures of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt that had been presented to members of the prime minister's party during the White House Christmas of 1941—a souvenir that reminded me of the old lyric "I danced with a man who's danced with a girl who's danced with the Prince of Wales."It is true that living in the past—to be a kind of History Channel Miss Havisham—can be bad for the mind and the soul, preventing us from engaging in the battles and causes of our own time. But when we are at our best, history and...

The Editor’s Desk

One of the pleasures of my job is tormenting—or at least trying to torment—my friend and colleague Marc Peyser,our arts editor. Marc is a brilliant man, a keen writer and a gifted editor, but he also has a strong streak of Charlie Brown in him. He always anticipates the worst and believes the end of all things is just around the corner. You know the type: if he won the lottery, he would immediately start fretting about the tax hit.In our work together, this "Hoo-Boy" personality manifests itself in ways like this: a few months ago, when we were discussing this week's cover, our second annual Global Literacy project, Marc told us that Malcolm Jones had just volunteered an interesting factoid: both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day in 1809, and were thus about to mark their bicentennials. What about a little essay, Marc said, on the two men?For me, the idea was like Christmas in May: two towering figures who had shaped the way we live now, redefining...

The Editor’s Desk

By any conventional political measurement, the presidential campaign of 2008, which we now know will be fought between John McCain and Barack Obama, should not be much of a contest. The McCain camp knows that both the math and the mood are against them. About 80 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track after eight years of Republican rule; the incumbent GOP president enjoys—if that is the word—the approval of less than a third of the nation. Add in Obama's undeniable political gifts and you have the makings, on paper or on screen, of a Democratic triumph for the ages.Our cover surely fits within that larger prospective narrative. Written by Daniel Gross with an essay by Fareed Zakaria and a collection of views from the NEWSWEEK Business Roundtable (which includes Robert Rubin, Larry Lindsey and Robert Reich), the package explains why our current economic troubles represent a different and possibly more serious kind of recession than past downturns. The package,...

The Editor’s Desk

The interview—about the Bush administration's record on protecting endangered species—was over, and Daniel Stone, who works in our Washington bureau, was about to leave Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's office when Kempthorne asked Stone to step out on the office balcony, which has, Dan says, "the kind of view you can really only get in Washington by political appointment. Trees blanket the entire city, with breaks in the foliage for the Capitol, the Washington Monument and, far to the west, the house of Robert E. Lee." Kempthorne pointed to the balcony's railing. "Every morning a small bird comes here and sings the most beautiful songs," he told Dan. Then he turned to face the vista of trees. "This, Daniel, is what we're talking about," Kempthorne said. "This is what's at stake."Trees and songbirds are indeed at stake in the great conservation battle that began, really, with one of the noble figures of Kempthorne's party, Theodore Roosevelt. But as with so much else in life,...

The Editor’s Desk

For those who support Barack Obama, our cover this week may seem yet another examination of their candidate's problems with white voters. For those who support John McCain, raising the race factor can suggest that those who oppose Obama are implicitly or even explicitly racist.The issue you are holding, however, is neither redundant punditry about what we recently referred to as "Obama's Bubba Gap," nor is it pre-emptive hand-wringing about how the race card might get played in the months to come. Our goal, rather, is to show how a seemingly straightforward question (are we really ready to elect a black man president?) has no simple answer.Many readers will disagree with me on that, believing—drawing on hope, I think, more than empirical evidence—that America is not only ready but willing, able and about to do so. Most surveys back up the cheerier vision of a nation that has drawn closer to the Promised Land: the new NEWSWEEK Poll finds that the percentage of Americans saying the...

The Editor's Desk

As opening sentences go, the one Mary Carmichael wrote for this week's cover is one of the more chilling I can remember: "Max Blake was 7 the first time he tried to kill himself."Thus begins Mary's account of the Blake family's struggle with Max's bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness typified by recurring bouts of mania and depression. Roughly 6.5 million Americans are affected by it, and of those about 800,000 are under the age of 18. It is a mysterious and stigmatizing disease. As Mary writes in her piece, which was edited by David Noonan, the bipolar brain is miswired, but no one knows why this happens, and while there are many drugs, many do not work well, or at all. And the number of bipolar diagnoses is rising, which means you are going to be hearing more about this disease and its effects in the coming years.All of which are the kinds of general points you would expect from a piece of journalism about a disease and its sufferers. They are important points. What you are...

Jon Meacham on America's Changing Place in the World

Perhaps naively, I have always been skeptical of what you might call the Gibbonization of America—that we are, like Rome, fated to inevitable decline. Admittedly, history offers little support for my view that things are rarely as bad as people think they are, but there is a dangerous solipsism in the tendency to believe that the problems of the day are inherently more difficult and intractable than those that faced earlier generations. To take only one example, the Civil War was pretty bad.It was with a measure of wariness, then, that I opened the galleys of Fareed Zakaria's new book, "The Post-American World," which we excerpt on our cover this week. We are colleagues and friends, and while we had discussed his project, one never knows where a book is going to take its author. And since my initial interpretation of the phrase "post-American world" made me wonder whether Fareed had decided the country was in a declinist phase, I was already mentally crafting warm but not effusive...

The Editor’s Desk

Political campaigns are fascinating for the same reasons great novels are: both feature characters driven and buffeted by ambition, love and pride. And as in literature, scope is important in politics, for the higher the stakes, the more pitched the story. All of which makes a presidential race the grandest of spectacles.Yet statecraft is not only about the spectacular. Politics, while entertaining, is not—or at least should not be—entertainment. Despite the way we go about deciding who gets it, the presidency is more than a popularity contest, though winning the popular vote is (usually) key. We are not electing someone to room with, drink with or play tennis with but someone to keep the nation safe and direct the affairs of the most powerful country on earth.It is also true, however, that politics is about people, about their passions and their hopes and their fears. Anyone who would lead us has to be able to win—and winning, to state the obvious, requires getting more votes than...

The Editor’s Desk

Last September, American-led troops discovered a trove of documents in an insurgent headquarters in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. The papers cataloged 606 militants who had come to Iraq from abroad. The largest number were from Saudi Arabia, but the highest percentage per capita (almost 19 percent, or 112) were Libyan. And of the 112 Libyans, 52 listed Darnah, a small city of 50,000 on the Mediterranean coast.Reading news accounts of the document find, our foreign editor, Nisid Hajari, was intrigued, and called Kevin Peraino, our Middle East correspondent. The mission sounded simple—answer the question, why Darnah?—but Libya is, well, Libya. As Kevin, who wrote our cover this week, says: "One of the frustrating things about covering the Middle East wars is that, for security reasons, it's often so difficult to tell a richly reported story about America's enemies in the region. I knew it would be tough to gain access to the people we wanted to see in a police state like Libya. I...

The Editor’s Desk

A few months ago, Julia Baird, the editor who oversees our science and family coverage, kept coming across stories about Americans (and Brits) going to India to look for surrogates—stories that were prompting angry online debates about the ethics of outsourcing childbearing to the developing world. It was all very interesting, Julia says, "but I kept wondering why no one was talking about the women in this country who enter commercial arrangements to carry other people's babies. The thought of going through childbirth and nine months of pregnancy for someone else seems astonishing for anyone who has been through it themselves. Sure, it's a joyful, miraculous process—but it is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, painful, restricting and traumatic as well as uplifting and curiously magical. So I was puzzled: who would do this? And why?"The great thing about journalism is that we get paid to go in search of answers to the questions that interest us. And so we launched a reporting...

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